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The Globe and Mail

McDonald's not lovin' out of control hashtag campaign

When McDonald's began promoting the #McDStories hashtag Wednesday on Twitter, the idea was to get people talking about their experiences with the fast-food giant. And in that sense, it was a rousing success: The phrase exploded in popularity as Twitter users across the country shared stories of their visits to McDonald's.

Unfortunately, McDonald's learned a harsh lesson in social media marketing: When you encourage people to talk about your company, they're not always going to say nice things.

McDonald's asked Twitter users to share their McDonald's stories, but the experience didn't go as planned.

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While McDonald's own tweets on the topic tended along the lines of "When u make something w/pride, people can taste it," actual customers were less inclined to toe the company line. "I haven't been to McDonalds in years, because I'd rather eat my own diarrhea," read one top tweet by @Muzzafuzza. Another user, @Jetsonjetsonjet, referred readers toa viral video of a mouse crawling through a bag of hamburger buns.

Meanwhile, animal rights activist @michellevegan tweeted that "@McDonalds scalds baby chicks alive for nuggets," and linked to a site run by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. It was retweeted more than 100 times.

Despite tweeting from its own account happier messages such as "Meet some of the hard-working people dedicated to providing McDs with quality food every day #McDStories" it appears @McDonalds lost control of the narrative here.

Such dangers are inherent in using social media to promote your brand. Sometimes it's an isolated gaffe, as when the marketing professional running the Chrysler Twitter feed inadvertently tweeted his distaste for Detroit drivers. But trying to enlist the masses on Twitter or Facebook for brand promotion carries its own set of risks. When Wendy's paid to promote the #HeresTheBeef hashtag last year, users responded with bawdy innuendo and other tweets completely unrelated to hamburgers. And in the summer of 2010, Coca-Cola(KO) was forced to apologize when a complicated social media contest for Dr. Pepper resulted in a pornographic reference being posted to a teenager's Facebook page.

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